Over six months have passed since the wheels were turned in competitive action, but following a series of driver changes and new cars, the 2019 season started with an action-packed meeting at Brands Hatch. ESM’s BTCC Correspondent recaps how it all happened.The familiar names of Ashley Sutton, Jason Plato and, reigning champion, Colin Turkington completed the qualifying top three. On Sunday, the weather was less than ideal with fog covering much of the circuit and an air temperature of less than eight degrees, but the action on the circuit was certainly hot.
Race one: Following the confusion with the weather, the front runners tried to play it safe and decided to start with wet tyres, while those further down the grid gambled on slicks. Sutton made a clean start and was followed by the three WSR run BMWs, as Plato spun on the line and was also later found guilty of being outside of his grid box. Things started well for those on wets, but by lap 6, the slicks were starting to come into their own, with Josh Cook and Jack Goff examples of those making good progress. Cook didn’t waste much time in a catching the leaders, overtaking them and pulling away for what, in the end, was as very comfortable victory, despite Nicolas Hamilton bumping into him when he was being lapped.
Hamilton had previously done well to reach 11thand ex-F1 racer, Mark Blundell, was also in the mix to start with, before dropping off to finish 14thon his debut. Jake Hill and Tom Chilton similarly made use of their slicks to make their way through the crowd to finish on the podium. The importance of being on the right tyre in this race was highlighted none more so on lap 17/24 as Stephen Jelley, who started last, overtook pole sitter and early race leader Sutton for 7th. As a result of the tyre choices, this was an outstanding race to start the season. Race rating: 9/10
Race two: The teams and drivers were once again faced with a decision at the start of the second race, but this time all of the cars decided to start on the dry tyre. The top three from the opening race started well, but Chilton soon found himself in 2nd, although he had to defend well from Hill. 2013 champion, Andrew Jordan, made an outstanding start, jumping eight positions in the opening laps to be 7th and his charge was not completed there, as he and Sutton moved forward together.
Just after the half way stage of the race, Cook’s lead disappeared quickly and Sutton and Jordan moved to the front, although Jordan was to be the man with the clear view on the next lap, as Sutton was left to battle with Adam Morgan, Hill, Tom Ingram and Jelley. It was a great battle with all of them deserving of a podium position, but in the end Sutton took 2nd from Morgan by just 0.022s in a photo finish. It was an impressive victory for the BMW 3-Series in only its second race. Race rating: 8/10
Race three: Stalwart Matt Neal was honoured with the first reverse grid pole of the season and he was joined at the front by Senna Proctor, Chilton and Rory Butcher. Jelley, starting 6th, made an absolutely incredible start and was 2nd, behind Proctor initially, before taking the lead at Druids. Proctor, however, was soon to find himself as a car too many in the train and he was spat out into the barriers.
By lap 7, Neal was back in the lead with a neat move up the inside of Jelley and Chilton soon secured 2nd. Down the pack, there were a series of good battles, but at the front Chilton took the lead after slight contact with Neal. Worse was to come for Neal, as after contact, he was sent sideways and Butcher and Jelley went through. From then on, Neal seemed to struggle before a late rear failure saw him slow and finish 8th.
Victory seemingly went to Chilton with Butcher and Jelley completing the podium. However, a post-race penalty for Chilton, after his contact with Neal, meant that he incurred a five second time penalty, leaving Butcher to inherit the victory. Race rating: 7.5/10
As a set of opening BTCC races go, you’d be hard pushed to find a better set than the three that were offered at Brands Hatch Indy. In 2018, there was an amazing second race, also in drying conditions, but the other two were not in the same category as this season’s. Because of the drying conditions creating results that were perhaps less than expected, it’s hard to make any real predictions about the season ahead. However, what as fans we would give for changing conditions at each meeting.
It must be said that the new BMW 3-Series performed admirably in the practice sessions, even completing a 1-2-3 in FP2. This performance was added to by Jordan’s victory and had they not gone with wet tyres in the opening race, they could have done even better. We mustn’t forget though, that different tracks have always suited different cars and this season will be no different. There will be tracks that suit the BMWs and Subarus, while there will be ones that suit the Hondas, for example. You would expect last season’s title contenders to be there or thereabouts, but it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that this season will include even more. This really could be an entertaining season.
Championship standings after 3 races out of 30:
|1. Josh Cook||44 points|
|2. Tom Chilton||40|
|3. Stephen Jelley||35|
|4. Rory Butcher||34|
|5. Adam Morgan||31|
|6. Jake Hill||30|